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Q&A with Mississippi author Jamie Kornegay
Jamie Kornegay recently published Soil, his debut novel, a darkly comical story about an ...
Jamie Kornegay recently published Soil, his debut novel, a darkly comical story about an idealistic young farmer who moves his family to a Mississippi flood basin, suffers financial ruin—and becomes increasingly paranoid he’s being framed for murder. Kornegay moved to the Delta in 2006 to establish an independent bookstore, Turnrow Book Co. Before that he was a bookseller, events coordinator, and radio show producer at the famous Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. He studied creative fiction under Barry Hannah at the University of Mississippi. Below, he shares with Visit Mississippi a few of his thoughts on his novel, his craft, and the state of Mississippi.
What inspired you to write Soil?
Taking the back roads to work one day, I drove by flooded farmland and noticed a rotten stump sticking up from the mud. My imagination got the better of me, and for a moment I thought it was a corpse. My mind started spinning, and soon I’d conceived a story in which the protagonist would find a dead body and, rather than call the police, get rid of it, all because of some twisted, misapplied guilt, which led to more questions and justifications and scenarios, all things used to build characters and stories from scratch. Driving back and forth to work through this beautiful countryside inspired me to think more about it everyday until it became a full-fledged novel.
Describe the setting. Is this based on the region of Mississippi where you grew up?
In my mind, this novel is set in the countryside between Water Valley, where I lived at the time, and Oxford, where I worked. I was interested in the differences between the two towns. Oxford was very cosmopolitan compared to Water Valley, which was still a sleep little country town. And the borderlands there, the rural country between Lafayette and Yalobusha Counties, had its own flavor too. A little wilder, more dangerous. I grew up in Batesville, which completes a triangle connecting these towns. Since then I ended up in the Delta. I always enjoy finding the characteristics that distinguish each community, as well as the similarities.
Do you have a favorite character?
Probably the deputy, Danny Shoals. My main protagonist, Jay the farmer, sunk to some dark places as he was trying to reconcile the loss of his farm and his family, and it was difficult staying in that state of mind. One day this swaggering deputy came onto the scene, and I so I began turning to him to liven the atmosphere when things got too dark. His role grew more significant. I wanted to create a law man who was corrupt though not in the stereotypical way we often see them portrayed. He’s younger and so prone to certain weaknesses that affect young men. Danny became tricky to write as well because his instincts are base. But I found humor in his over-confidence and desperate predilections. I was also intrigued by his desire to be a better person through the love of a good woman.
Correct a misperception about Mississippi.
I could try and correct several, but there are two I’d like to mention. First, we’re not illiterate and ignorant. How do you account for all the great independent bookstores in our state if none of us read? Not to mention all of the writers who come from Mississippi. Authors who come through my bookstore tell me all the time that Mississippians are among the best readers they encounter. They have more in-depth discussions about books with readers here, and their publishers send them here because we sell a lot of books in Mississippi.
Second, we’re not backwards and intolerant. What most people know about Mississippi comes from their history books and from the often absurd and negative comments delivered by our elected leaders, comments that don’t reflect the people of this state but a prescribed political attitude. Instead, what you’ll find in Mississippi towns, on the street level, are some of kindest, most generous and tolerant people you’ll ever meet. They are generally proud of what’s happening in Mississippi and love to share it with visitors.
Did you always hope to become a writer?
I’ve been a writer since I could read. I had a wonderful elementary school teacher, Nancy Bridges at South Panola in Batesville, who had us all sit together for story time. Only she wasn’t reading children’s books. She read us The Red Pony and Animal Farm, only high literature. Even though I didn’t get it all at the time, the books stuck with me. That’s a great example for other teachers. Don’t be afraid to give kids more than the recommended dose of literature. Due to this early exposure, I wrote my first novel around the age of eight, by longhand in an E.T. spiral-bound notebook, and mailed it to the publisher of my favorite Judy Blume books. Sadly, it was sent back with a form rejection letter. But luckily I learned tenacity, the great friend to any writer who hopes to be published. Thirty years later, here we are.
Learning to write, were you influenced by any Mississippi authors?
Tremendously. I found Willie Morris early on and was inspired by his career. Some of my favorite books in my teenage years were The Secret History by Donna Tartt and The Firm by John Grisham. Later, in college at the University of Mississippi, I found William Faulkner, whose ambition and novel structures and characters were hugely influential. My creative writing teacher at Ole Miss was Barry Hannah, whose sentences still blow me away. I’ve tried to infuse my prose with his humor and firecracker spirit. I also studied Larry Brown’s rural realism and Eudora Welty’s sophisticated humor. Living in Oxford and working at the famous Square Books, I had access to a lot of writers and became friends with Brad Watson, Steve Yarbrough, and Tom Franklin. I learned so much about writing from them. And now I’m excited to see a renaissance of diverse young writers who are either from here or working here or both – Natasha Trethewey, Jesmyn Ward, Ace Atkins, Martha Foose, Michael Farris Smith, Beth Ann Fennelly, Kiese Laymon, Jack Pendarvis, Richard Grant, Matthew Guinn, Michael Kardos, Steve Yates, Katy Simpson Smith, and the list goes on and on. The next generation of Mississippi literature looks very secure.
Has running an independent bookstore influenced your writing?
In addition to putting me in convenient reach of so many great writers and books, it provides a necessary social outlet. I used to think how swell it would be to sit at home all day and write by myself, but that key component would be missing – people, from whom so much inspiration comes. Every person who comes through the door at Turnrow Books has a story, and here in Greenwood, more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived, they’re more than willing to tell it.
South by Sud Project Trails the Blues in France
What's a Mississippi Blues Trail marker doing in Cahors, France? Even those who are familiar with ...
What's a Mississippi Blues Trail marker doing in Cahors, France?
Even those who are familiar with the Mississippi Blues Trail, the collection of historical markers that celebrate the blues through stories and images, may be surprised that there are currently twelve out-of-state markers, including one in the south of France.
This week, through a partnership with Visit Mississippi, an American journalist will be documenting her journey to the Cahors marker. Brandi Katherine Herrera, who is also a poet and multidisciplinary artist, will explore how the blues traveled all the way to France from the Mississippi Delta and capture what it looks like today. The project is called "South by Sud: Trailing the Blues, Mississippi to France."
Follow Brandi as she visits the places and people who make up the blues culture in France. She will explore popular blues clubs, tour historic blues sites in Paris, meet with blues aficionados, and share what she experiences along the way. On Tuesday, March 3, she will take over Visit Mississippi's Instagram for the day.
We will be sharing Brandi's social media posts on our channels throughout the week, until the project concludes on Saturday, March 7:
Brandi will use the hashtag #southbysud and will collect all of her posts daily on the South by Sud Tumblr blog. We encourage you to follow along!
About Brandi Katherine Herrera: Brandi lived in Mississippi before returning to her native Portland, Oregon, and previously partnered with Visit Mississippi on the digital media project "A Poet in Mississippi." She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Pacific University, and her work has been featured in a number of publications, including The Oregonian and The Jackson Free Press. Brandi is working on a German translation/poetry erasure project as an artist-in-residence in Normany, and at Château de Monthelon in Montréal.
Mississippi welcomes Grammy-winning Rosanne Cash
Mississippi will soon welcome Grammy-winning artist Rosanne Cash, who will perform a benefit ...
Mississippi will soon welcome Grammy-winning artist Rosanne Cash, who will perform a benefit concert at Dockery Farms in Cleveland on June 6, 2015.
Cash, is a singer, songwriter and artist whose music spans the genres of country, folk, pop, rock and blues. Recently, Cash won Grammy Awards for all three of her nominations in the categories of Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song.
In her award-winning album, Cash explained her connection to Dockery, saying “So much of the inspiration for The River & The Thread comes from right here on this stretch of highway from Greenwood to the Mississippi River, and the very center of the creative spark is Dockery Farms. It’s a huge thrill and the completion of a circle to finally perform these songs in this historic place.”
The music heritage of Dockery, located just east of Cleveland on Highway 8, runs deep. Will Dockery started the plantation in the late 1800s, clearing thousands of acres of woods for farming. His expansive farm and self-sufficient community would become the sometimes home of peripatetic Charley Patton, who is regarded as the “father of the Delta blues.” Cash’s stage for this concert will be the cotton storage shed on the property that was built around 1925; it sits a little over a hundred feet from the commissary porch where Patton often played. Patton himself learned from fellow Dockery resident Henry Sloan and influenced many other musicians who lived here, including Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, and Roebuck “Pops” Staples.
The Dockery Farms Foundation is working to ensure that Dockery can once again be a center for music education, one that serves both the general public and the local community.
Tickets to the concert are available by visiting www.dockeryfarms.org or calling 662-846-4626. Gates will open at 5 p.m., and the opening act will begin at 6:30, followed by Ms. Cash’s performance starts at 7:30.
Mississippi Homecoming Videos
2014 was the Year of the Creative Economy: Mississippi Homecoming, which Gov. Phil Bryant declared ...
2014 was the Year of the Creative Economy: Mississippi Homecoming, which Gov. Phil Bryant declared as a year-long celebration of our state's music, arts, culture, and food. Here's a look back at the four Mississippi Homecoming campaign videos. Each featured an ambassador who invited the public to visit and experience the best our state has to offer.
Welcome: Marty Stuart
Food: Robert St. John
Music: Bobby Rush
Arts & Literature: Cassandra Wilson
Slow Cooker Jambalaya Recipe
1 lb. chicken, chopped ½ lb. Italian sausage, casings removed 28 oz. diced tomatoes with ...
1 lb. chicken, chopped
½ lb. Italian sausage, casings removed
28 oz. diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
2 t. dried oregano
2 t. Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning
1 t. Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 can mushrooms
2 bay leaves
½ t. dried thyme
Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste
1 lb. shrimp, peeled (optional)
2 cups cooked rice
Combine all ingredients in the slow cooker and cover with lid. Cook on Low for 6 hours or High for 3 hours. Add the shrimp during the last 30 minutes of cook time. Serve over rice. Best paired with a fresh salad and French bread.
Kinsey Collection comes to Mississippi
One of the largest collections of African American art, featuring artifacts, books, manuscripts and ...
One of the largest collections of African American art, featuring artifacts, books, manuscripts and more, will make its first visit to Mississippi in March.
Housed in the John Grisham Room at Mississippi State University’s Mitchell Memorial Library March 21-June 20, the collection, owned by Bernard and Shirley Kinsey of Los Angeles, celebrates African Americans’ achievements and accomplishments throughout U.S. history, especially through their impacts on culture and art. The Highlights of the “African American Treasures” display include an early copy of the Emancipation Proclamation and a signed copy of Brown v. Board of Education. Also, rare works from early 19th century African American artists will be displayed.
The Kinsey family, including son Khalil, will visit campus to celebrate the opening of The Kinsey Collection at MSU. Bernard Kinsey will speak at a 3 p.m. public presentation on March 22 to offer insights into the respective pieces on display at the university, as well as why he and his wife are so passionate about gathering items for the collection.
“What The Kinsey Collection does is put the ‘African’ in the story of American history,” he said. “This is the story of a people who did so much with so little, and this collection begins to fill in the blanks, trying to give those people a voice, a personality and a name.”
To discover more, schedule group tours or view exhibit hours for “African American Treasures” from The Kinsey Collection at MSU, visit library.msstate.edu/Kinsey. More information about the Kinseys, The Kinsey Collection and its history is available at www.thekinseycollection.com.
Catch the Love Bug in Mississippi
When you truly want to get away from it all, relax, unwind and reconnect, Mississippi offers ...
When you truly want to get away from it all, relax, unwind and reconnect, Mississippi offers romantic couple’s destinations in all five regions of the state – Coastal, Pines, Capital/River, Delta and Hills – sure to please interests of all types. This year, with Valentine’s Day falling on a Saturday, take the opportunity to make a weekend trip filled with fun and a nice change of scenery.
The Delta – Greenwood – The Alluvian
Located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, this hotel and spa offers 45 rooms, four lofts and five suites. A daily southern breakfast buffet, a 24-hour fitness center, a southern library, room service, full bar, tennis, golf and pool amenities are just a few of the services guests can enjoy. There is an award-winning restaurant in house, and a 16-seat private movie theater nearby. The Alluvian Spa is a 7,000-square-foot luxury spa offering a complete menu of treatments including face and body care, massage therapy, therapeutic baths, hand and foot care, and cosmetic and hair services. The spa pampers guests even further with indigenous treatments and its signature Sweet Tea services. Couples can enjoy cooking classes, or a full culinary weekend, at the Viking Cooking School nearby.
Coastal – Biloxi – The White House Hotel
The White House Hotel is a historic boutique hotel with a prime beachfront location. Keesler Air Force Base is just one-half mile away and world-class casinos and a new baseball stadium are only one mile. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the hotel restaurant, Cora's features 40 wines and 16 draft beers on tap. Relax in the oversized lobby or rooftop terrace overlooking the landscaped front lawn, designed for large outdoor weddings and parties, also home to the luxurious pool and hot tub that overlook the beach.
Capital/River - Natchez - Dunleith Historic Inn
An exquisite 1856 Historic Inn located in the heart of charming Natchez, Mississippi, this unique inn is listed as a National Historic Landmark. Dunleith sits on 40 landscaped acres. The property is graced with original historical buildings dating back to the 1790’s. The buildings include the carriage house and stables, a dairy barn, a poultry house, a brick dependency and a greenhouse. Known for its grandeur, the Inn has superior service, fine southern cuisine, a serene setting, as well as 22 luxurious rooms. Dunleith is rich in history and charm. Whether you are planning a weekend getaway, a wedding, or a corporate or a private event, you will most certainly experience history and southern hospitality at its finest.
Pines – Starkville - Cedars Bed and Breakfast
Built in 1836, this historic antebellum plantation mansion reigns over a picturesque 183-acre estate dotted with forests, rolling pastureland and fishing ponds. Late Colonial and Greek Revival architecture prevail in this frontier home. Some of its architectural highlights include seven magnificent hand-carved fireplace mantles, ornate early 20th century electric light fixtures, early 19th century hardware, and hand poured glass. Full breakfast included with stay.
Hills – Tishomingo - Tishomingo State Park Rustic Cabins
For the more adventurous couple, Tishomingo State Park offers some of the state’s best hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing, and even rock climbing. With six rustic cabins and one cottage available for rental, this is the perfect place to unplug and get back to nature. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Tishomingo State Park is steeped in history and scenic beauty. Archaeological excavations confirm the presence of Paleo Indians in the area now encompassed by the park as early as 7000 B.C.; the park takes its name from the leader of the Chickasaw nation, Chief Tishomingo. The famous Natchez Trace Parkway, the premier highway of the early 1800s and a modern scenic parkway, runs directly through the park. Today's visitors to Tishomingo State Park discover the same timeless natural beauty that enchanted the Indians centuries ago. Tishomingo offers a unique landscape of massive rock formations and fern-filled crevices found nowhere else in Mississippi. Massive boulders blanketed in moss dot the hillsides, and colorful wildflowers border trails once walked by Native Americans.
For more information on Mississippi's most romantic getaways, and other unique lodging, see www.visitmississippi.org.
Mississippi GRAMMY Celebration in L.A.
On Thursday, February 5th, Malcolm White, Mary Margaret Miller and Ward Emling will represent Visit ...
On Thursday, February 5th, Malcolm White, Mary Margaret Miller and Ward Emling will represent Visit Mississippi and the Mississippi Film Office at a Mississippi Music Celebration at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles. This celebration of the homegrown nominees and deep musical legacy of Mississippi is entering its sixth year.
Partners from the Mississippi Tourism Association, the Cleveland Tourism Office, the Cleveland Music Foundation, the Delta Music Institute and the Coahoma County Convention and Visitors Bureau will also be in attendance. Mississippi Night will run from 5 pm to 10:30 pm and will include a VIP reception, tour of the GRAMMY Museum, and a Mississippi music performance.
Read The Clarion-Ledger's feature on Delta State University's DMI All Stars, who will open for A Band of Legends. The DMI All Stars will participate in this year's Educational Session, a program for L.A. area students organized by the GRAMMY organization.
Follow photos and updates on Twitter and Instagram at #MSGRAMMY, and watch the 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards to cheer for the nominees from Mississippi. The awards air on CBS at 8/7 Central on Sunday, February 8th.
Dunlap & Ford to Exhibit at MMA Pop Up Event 1/29
The momentum of the creative economy continues to surge in 2015. A pop up exhibition at the ...
The momentum of the creative economy continues to surge in 2015. A pop up exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art on Thursday, January 29 celebrates the work of two artists, William Dunlap and Michael Ford, whose work has been profoundly influenced by the spirit and people of the state for more than three decades. Part of the Museum After Hours series of monthly pop up exhibitions, this month’s event in partnership with Visit Mississippi highlights how the cultural resources of Mississippi continue to inspire artists within the state and attract visitors and creative professionals from beyond our borders. Visit Mississippi director Malcolm White will lead a Q&A about these themes at 6 PM during the evening event.
Michael Ford, whose photographs will be on view alongside William Dunlap’s paintings, shares how working and documenting in the state beginning in the 1970s opened up a whole new world to him.